A few days ago, I came across an online discussion on self-censorship. Many writers readily admitted that they modify their prose and avoid controversial topics for fear of offending readers.
“Before I bother to care, which congressional district are you in?”
An Obvious Exception
If you happen to write children’s literature, you get a pass on today’s somewhat weighty topic. Censor away, and most parents will thank you for not turning fairy tales into erotic, political hot button thrillers with enough blood splatter to rival a Bronx crime report. Children have video games for that.
Children’s authors are also forgiven for only promoting one four-letter word: love. All others should be learned in a schoolyard. It’s tradition.
If you write for adults, is it possible that self-censorship really is mere cowardice?
I am not a coward! I just happen to like the view under this bed.
Marketing As Justification
Avoiding offense does have some short-term applicability from a marketing standpoint. The public likes pablum, which is easily found on any magazine rack, often the literary equivalent of YouTube kittens. However, there is a much more viable argument, and historical proof, that the public has other tastes as well. Writers who fully express a unique voice often become bestsellers, and possibly, classics. So, marketing sense does indicate that censoring your muse may be a rather stupid decision.
Stupid is a state of mindless.
Offense And\Or Criticism
Is self-censoring really avoiding reader offense, or avoiding criticism? After all, few readers or reviewers express strong negative opinions about the bland, and a fear of criticism is certainly not a new concern:
To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. – Aristotle
Offense (and taking offense) is also ancient, having been around since before humans climbed down from the trees in search of a Starbucks, where in most cases, modern people have replaced a duel to the death between offender and offended with significantly more civilized conversations and attitudes:
It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what. – Stephen Fry
What is offensive humor?
Is it possible to say anything without offending someone?
Probably not, so why not pick a side on any issue, controversial or otherwise.
Today, FOX “News” again refuted the rumor that there is somewhere on planet Earth a liberal who may be worth listening to.
Consider also, nearly anyone’s words can be easily, and even purposefully, misconstrued. It’s likely impossible to remove all offense from everything you write. Say nothing and you may still cause offense:
That’s cheek! He left the page blank!
Degrading Your Writer’s Voice
No one is forced to address topics that they’d rather not. Conversely, fear of offense is a lousy editing criteria.
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. – Dr. Seuss
Assuming that you’re not writing humorous cocktail napkins for a convent, in self-censoring your writing without an extremely well-considered and decidedly valid reason, the best work that you can hope to achieve is a mere shadow of what you’re capable of producing.
Next Up: Sarcasm: PRO or CON?